I don’t like New Year’s resolutions for two reasons – both related to the fact that they have to be made public. Firstly, when you say aloud something that you really want to do, it can sound impossible to achieve or just stupid – and that is a bad way to start. Secondly, once everyone knows that you’re training for a marathon or writing a novel, they will keep asking how you are doing. This is fine when things are going well but it’s awful to have to own up if you’re struggling. So I am going to keep my own aspirations to myself this year and instead I’ll just share a few mini-goals that I’ve put on my ‘Writing To Do List’ fot the first part of 2012:
- Enter all 4 of Eddie Walsh’s Emerald Writing Workshops 500 word story competitions plus the 4 sentence story. I intend to send them all together in one envelope (saving money on stamps!) before the first closing date of 28th February 2012. I’ve already drafted most of them – I just need an idea for the story set on a train…
- Enter Della Galton’s competition for a 250 word story about a New Year’s resolution that went wrong. The prize is a copy of her new book ‘Moving On’. Closes 10am Jan 4th.
- Enter The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2012 competition. Stories on the theme of ‘Identity’ of up to 2,000 words. Closes 14th February 2012. I really fancy the prize – £500 plus an Arvon course.
- Enter the Swanwick 2012 competition for a story or article on the theme ‘A Sense of Duty’. First prize is a week at the Swanwick summer school. Closes 30th April 2012. I fancy there will be fewer entrants in the article section but at the moment I’m struggling to come up with an idea.
Finally, (following yet another rejection from Take a Break’s Fiction Feast) I am going to stop banging my head against a brick wall on markets that my writing is obviously not suited for.
Happy New Year to you all – and thanks for sticking with me through 2011!
A few days ago I had to go into hospital for a minor operation. Like most people, I was nervous and tried not to think
about the actual procedure. Instead I tried to focus on the more pleasant things – such as choosing which book to pack to fill the time before I went down to theatre, going shopping for new slippers (fruitless – they were all old ladies’ styles!) and the relief I would feel when it was all over. If I had dwelt solely on the operation I would have been stressed, anxious and maybe I would’ve chickened out of the whole thing altogether.
Sitting in the ward in a backless gown, thick white anti-embollism stockings and paper pants (too much information – sorry!), it struck me that it was all a bit like attempting a novel. The thought of the huge task of slogging away at 80,000 words strikes fear, anxiety and stress into the heart of any writer – and scares many of us away from starting chapter 1 at all. But taking our eyes off the task ahead and instead concentrating on the preparation (character sketches, plot, chapter outlines etc) and allowing ourselves (brief!) flights of fancy to a future book launch party makes things less daunting - allowing us to slip into the actual writing without too much worry, just as I slipped under the anaesthetic (well, after a couple of attempts by the anaesthetist at finding a vein for his needle).
So don’t let that unknown black hole of hard work frighten you off attempting a longer piece of writing - concentrate on the pleasanter bits to ease yourself into it.
A couple of months ago I entered the National Association of Writers’ Groups short story competition and I paid £3 extra for a critique by Linda Lewis. The story I sent had already been in 2 competitions (without success!) but I am fond of it and decided it deserved one more chance.
Again, it came nowhere but this time I found out why. Linda was very gentle but constructive in her comments. She explained that the story didn’t include enough information about the heroine to enable the reader to care what happened to her. Essentially I was writing about a lonely old lady in hospital but I didn’t explain why she had no visitors or what she’d done with her life (all rather obvious stuff when I look at it now). Linda also said that this kind of story had been written many times before (and I thought my idea was original!).
So now I know where I went wrong. I still like the story so I’m going to add some background information and try to think of a twist to make it a bit more unique. Then I’ll look for somewhere else to send it.
Linda writes a regular column in Writers’ Forum magazine and is offering a critique service through her website (don’t be scared – she knows how to phrase things kindly!).
Writing is a frustrating occupation with little reward. It’s easy to get fed up with the rejections, the publications that don’t bother to reply at all and that blank piece of paper which refuses to be filled with wonderful prose.
So why do any of us keep writing? Why do we pick up a pen or drag ourselves to the keyboard day after day? Is it the pleasure of losing ourselves in another world (in which case it would be easier to just pick up a book written by somebody else)?
Hope is what keeps me going. Hope that the editor might like this article pitch, hope that this story might win the competition or this reader’s letter might bag me the star prize.
This hope is fired by small incidents and minor successes along the way – things that cheer me up when the bigger prizes are eluding me.
One of these was my writing group’s Christmas meeting last week. Our new program secretary, Moira, organised a fun competition for a piece of writing containing the phrase ‘It happened every Christmas’ – with prizes from her attic store cupboard. We all took some food (there was way too much food!) and listened to everyone’s entries. We had fiction, poems, memoir and articles. Moira had the unenviable task of awarding the prizes. I received a scented candle in a pretty box (pictured). It may not be an award to add to my CV but it gave me a boost.
A couple of days ago I met up with my writing buddy, Helen. She didn’t award me any prizes but I did get inspired from our chat about plans for 2012. I came away knowing that I have to produce a certain amount of finished work otherwise I’ll let the side down.
Finally, I’ve been shortlisted in the latest Emerald Writing Workshops competition. It’s good to see a couple of other familiar names on the list - fellow blogger, Susan Jones and Sharon Bee who runs the Fiction Addiction website. Fingers crossed for us all!
So, maybe I haven’t won the Booker this month but there have been plenty of little things to keep me going!
Read any good books lately? As writers we should all be bookworms too and what better way to practise concise writing than with a book review?
A book review requires the ability to:
- Summarise a plot (without giving away the ending!)
- Pass an opinion on various aspects of the book – it’s construction, characterisation, use of language etc.
- Share any emotional impact that it had on you – did it make you laugh, cry etc.
Writing book reviews won’t make you rich but it might earn you a free copy of a book and get your name out there.
Book reviewing opportunities:
- Waterstones – if you’ve got a Waterstones card (i.e. a free loyalty card – no need to buy anything) then you can enter regular draws for pre-publication copies of new books to review. There are usually 25 copies of each title to give away and I’ve been successful in the draws several times. If you receive a book then you just post a short review on the Waterstones website (and it doesn’t have to be good). Details of the books currently on offer are here.
- Take A Break’s Fiction Feast – each issue carries a 70 word ‘My Favourite Book’ from a reader. £20 is paid for each one used.
- The Saturday Guardian are asking ‘What have you enjoyed reading in the past 12 months?’ Email them no more than 150 words to firstname.lastname@example.org to arrive no later than Sunday 11 December and preferably write about a recent title. A selection of the reviews received will be published – no payment but the kudos of appearing in a broadsheet newspaper.
- Your own blog/Facebook/Twitter etc. - in these days of zero publicity budgets, authors need all the help they can get so if you’ve enjoyed a book, pass the word on! (and someone might do the same for you one day)
When entering a competition it’s always nice to know where the entry fees are going. The Alan Sillitoe Open Poetry
Competition is raising funds to commission a statue of him, in Nottingham (£50,000 is needed). Alan died in 2010 and was one of Nottingham’s most distinguished 20th century writers.
Poems can be on any subject but must be no more than 40 lines. Entry fee is £3 (or £10 for 4 poems). Entry is by post only. The closing date is 10th January 2012 and winners will be notified in February. Full details are here.
If you are a fan of Sillitoe’s work (Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner etc.) you can make a donation to the statue fund here and be mentioned on their ‘Wall of Honour’.